Risky Genes: Genetics, Breast Cancer, and Jewish Identity

JessicaMozersky_picJessica Mozersky, New School for Social Research

Thursday, April 10 / 4:00 pm / Lovejoy 215

Ashkenazi Jews have the highest known population risk of carrying specific mutations, known as the ‘Ashkenazi mutations’, in the high risk breast cancer genes BRCA1 and BRCA2. While many populations have been associated with an increased risk of genetic disease, Ashkenazi Jews are the most prominent subjects of genetic research. This may seem paradoxical given their history of discrimination, which included claims of biological difference and inferiority. Using qualitative ethnographic data with high risk Ashkenazi women living in the UK, this talk will explore the ways in which genetic knowledge about hereditary breast cancer risk can actually reiterate collective identity. Genetic narratives about disease risk are related to the reproductive history of Ashkenazi Jews while simultaneously raising concerns about the consequences for future generations. Yet newer findings of supposedly ‘Ashkenazi’ mutations in other apparently non-Jewish populations highlight the complexities when population and medical genetics intersect.

Co-sponsored by the Science, Technology, and Society Program and the Jewish Studies Program.